While many college students dedicated their summer months to part-time barista stints at quirky coffee shops or lived the nine-to-five routine, surrounded by office buildings and starched button-downs, other students slept in poncho-like tents and trekked through sweltering and over terrain reminiscent of Star Wars with 50 pounds strapped to their backs and M60s gripped at their sides.
These students, the nine rising seniors in Reserve Officer Training Corps at the College of William and Mary, spent their summer at the 29-day-long Leadership, Development and Assessment Course at Fort Lewis in Washington.
“LDAC is built up a lot in ROTC because the evaluations that you get there, along with the rest of your performance in ROTC, really shape your branch choice,” Battalion Commander Aleca Blaisdell-Black ’13 said. “So, if you do really well at LDAC, it’ll push you over the edge over other cadets.”
Each person’s GPA, extracurricular activities and personal performance within the ROTC program combines with the LDAC score to determine one’s National Order of Merit List ranking, which ultimately deicdes each cadet’s Army branch assignment upon graduation. The course is a reference for which branch assignment might be most fitting because it emulates authentic situations that cadets may face while employed by the Army in the future.
“There was one day where they put you in a gas chamber filled with pepper spray, and they make you take off your mask and jump up and down and say your name and what school you’re from … the whole time you’re just coughing and your eyes are like bleeding,” Command Sergeant Major PJ Judge ’13 said.
This 29-day snapshot of Army life oriented cadets to the sobering realities of their possible futures after graduation.
“You realize that in about a year, you’re going to be leading about 40 people — 40 human beings — who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, who have combat experience and you’re just some 22-23 year old kid with a college degree, so LDAC was really a gateway to realizing that you’re entering the adult world,” Judge said.
LDAC offers the opportunity to execute not only the skills and knowledge acquired throughout the ROTC program during the cadets’s first three years at the College, but also a distinctive type of leadership compared to other organizations on campus.
“There are very few programs that take that much time to really prepare you for something like the Army … I feel like here at school they’ll be like ‘oh, have a leadership seminar,’ but it’s more than that in the Army [because] whatever your subordinates do is a direct reflection of you,” Recruitment, Retention and Marketing Officer in Charge Thornton Ray ’13 said.
Blaisdell-Black emphasized the importance for cadets to keep their future employment in the Army in mind despite the fact that, during the first three years in ROTC, heavy emphasis is placed on preparing for the LDAC.
“A lot of people are trained that the LDAC is the end-all be-all, but you’re not training to go to LDAC, you’re training to be an officer in the United States Army … I want our ms1-3s [freshmen through juniors] to understand that I really want them to be good officers and to succeed in the Army,” Blaisdell-Black said.
Even though Senior Military Instructor Master Sergeant Ernest McCalister commended the seniors’ performance at LDAC, he agreed that LDAC is not the only indication of cadets’s future success in the Army.
“Just like in combat, nothing is set in stone [at LDAC] so you can’t have any expectations … the only thing you can say is that you want them to meet your standards — just like in war you just want to bring everyone home,” McCalister said.
Cadets received overall evaluations of E (Exceeds Standard), S (Satisfies Standard), or N (Needs Improvement) based on 17 “Dimensions of Leadership.” Of the nine cadets from the College, two received overall evaluations of E, an evaluation given to the top ten percent of cadets from across the country. The remaining seven earned an S, meaning that all cadets satisfied the requirements.
“Everyone has a bit more mutual respect for everyone else because we all passed it,” Judge said.
These nine individuals will now utilize their leadership in organizing and executing the training for underclassmen in ROTC, sharing LDAC experiences and advice with the juniors preparing for LDAC.
“This year, we are the example, and we are the role models, and I’m excited that my classmates and myself really get to shape the program … I just want to help build our legacy here at the school,” Blaisdell-Black said.